One of the great fears of becoming a plant-based eater is that it might forever spell the end to creamy sauces. People think it’s goodbye to cheesiness, to oozing and gooey casseroles, bagels with fat smears of cream cheese. They think life going forward will no longer be the velvety smooth existence it once was. But, those people are wrong.
Somewhat surprisingly, it doesn’t take any dairy whatsoever to make amazingly creamy dishes. Classic alfredo sauce to spill over bed of fettuccini, rich sausage gravy for smothering a couple of open-faced biscuits, fresh and herby cream cheese to swipe over a slice of toast—they are all still at the diary-free diner’s disposal. What’s more is that the choice may just be healthier.
While there are lots of questionable vegan cheeses and milks, more processed than pleasing, it doesn’t have to be the case. There are lots of simple, delicious ways to go from plant to creamy with whole foods and healthy ingredients. In fact, dare we say, sometimes the results are even tastier than what we’d feared losing.
Nuts are the first formidable defense against losing creaminess. With a good wallop of healthy fats and quality proteins, nuts make for some absolutely amazing plant-based cheeses, especially the creamy stuff. Plus, these cheeses will be homespun, free of both the dangers of dairy and the disappointment of another chemical concoction. Nut cream/cheese, more or less made by soaking raw almonds, cashews, macadamias, walnuts — so many options to play with— for a day then blending them with fun flavors, can be a spreadable delight or even thrown into soups.
Coconut is Crazy
Coconut milk is nothing new, and for those of us who’ve been delving into creamy curries and coconut ice creams (so awesome!), we are already well aware that coconut can quickly make dairy milk an afterthought. Plus, we can make the milk, cream, or even yogurt right at home, no chemicals or cans to worry about. It is loaded with good nutrients for our health. When dishes call for a touch of milk or cream, a bit of yogurt or even whipped cream for desserts, coconut is a great solution.
A Hill of Beans
Low in fat, high in fiber and full of protein, beans are a welcome addition to just about any plant-based diet. What’s more, they can be used to make a super creamy sauce. Simply overcook some beans, generally these are white — navy beans or chickpeas or something of the like — and combine them with the right flavor, some sautéed onions and garlic, maybe some herbs, and a bit of water. Then, it’s as easy as either injected a dose of the old hand blender or tossing the beans in the upright blender. Use it for pasta. Use it for biscuits. Use it often.
Go! Go! Avocado
Good fats and gloriously green, avocados are another great component that can be added to make things, from pasta sauces to chocolate mousse, creamy and smooth. It’s not difficult and all, and it’s yet another whole food — even raw — option that dazzles the taste buds with texture and flavor. Avocados are great for smoothies, can be used to stuff things — jalapeno poppers — in place of cheese, as well as fills in some massive gaps for creamy salad dressings. Plus, it’s fun to save the seed and grow a tree right at home.
Where I come from in the Cajun country of Louisiana, the roux reigns supreme. Before we make a pot of beans, pot of gumbo, pot of etouffee or pot of just about anything, we prepare a roux. The classic combination for roux is equal parts butter and flour, both of which seem out of place in this article (Nonetheless, vegan butter and white flour do work). In actuality, what we need to do is cook flour (sweet rice flour comes recommended), in fat (a good extra virgin oil will do fine). This a slow cooking experience, letting the flour gradually grow darker, or redder as “roux” suggests. Add water or plant-based milk to make gravy, sauce or soup.
Cauliflower is all the rage these days, at least for us plant-based foodies, and it is so with good reason. It’s crazy versatile, with the ability to mimic some our favorite meat dishes, like Buffalo wings, or it can go sweet and sour, cacciatore, or even tator tots. Amazingly, cauliflower also makes a one of the best “cheesy,” creamy sauces ever. Check out this mac and cheese recipe to get going, but realize that a good cauliflower sauce only requires roasting the cauliflower to golden, adding it to some sautéed onions and blending it all together with a bit of water (or plant-based milk) until it’s the desired consistency.
Dairy-free diets are becoming a more and more obvious choice. Luckily for those who are accustomed to the flavor and texture, all is not lost. Creaminess still abounds.
Lead image source: Extra Creamy Vegan Mac and Cheese